The Burning of Rome and Jerusalem were Six Years Apart: Was there a Connection?
Painting by Hubert Robert
I have not read where anyone has suggested there was a connection between the Great Fire of Rome in July of 64 CE and the Burning of Jerusalem and its Temple six years later, but it seems to me there is a clear possible link. Many stories circulated after the fire in Rome that Nero had started it on purpose to make room for his new golden palace and its grounds, which would have required large tracts of land already occupied. None of the rumors could be proven. The Roman historian Tacitus, who was eight years old when the fire occurred, used public records to write his account of the fire. He placed Nero that day at his villa in the coastal town of Antium to escape Rome’s hot summer. What is not in question is that after the fire the needs for funds to rebuild the city were dire, and that such funds could most readily be obtained by squeezing the provinces for more taxes. Nero’s personal building project for his new grand Domus Aurea was adding to that need and making him even less popular.
According to Josephus, Judea was sent a new procurator, Gessius Florus, not long after the fire in Rome. Josephus wrote that Florus was chosen because of his wife’s Cleopatra’s friendship with Nero’s wife Poppaea. Thus Florus, with experience in collecting taxes, had opportunities for direct conversations with Nero before he left for Judea. Once there, he took up residence in the palace at Caesarea, where it soon became obvious that he favored the local Greek subjects over the Jews. This antisemitism came to a boil in 66 CE when Florus accepted a bribe of eight talents of gold to hear a case of local rabbis against local Greeks but had the former imprisoned instead. This injustice resulted in an uproar in Jerusalem. Florus then demanded, in person, as a tit-for-tat, another seven talents from the Temple treasury. The refusal of this from the Jewish leaders led to a massacre of over 2,000 Jews in Jerusalem and a failed attempt by Florus to raid the Temple by force. This final act was too much for the Jewish zealots, who rose up and drove the Roman garrisons out of Jerusalem. This direct aggression against Rome sparked a larger armed response and the beginning of the First Jewish Revolt. The revolt was ultimately crushed four years later under a devastating siege by General Titus in 70 CE that ended in the burning of the Temple and the city.
The actions we take often have unintended consequences, and it seems to me that a fire that burned Rome led to another one that burned Jerusalem six years later. If you want to know what it was like to be there, read about the dramatic events in Cry for Jerusalem: Book One Resisting Tyranny.